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History Bites

The first Italian to travel through the future site of Chicago was explorer Enrico Tonty (Tonti) in 1681 sailing under the French flag.

Oak Park native Dan Castellaneta supplies the voice of cartoon character Homer Simpson.

Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini, who founded hospitals and schools in Chicago and died there, is the first American citizen to be canonized a saint in 1946.

The Radio Flyer Red Wagon, a symbol of American childhood, was produced by Antonio Pasin, an immigrant from Venice whose company is still being run by his grandsons on Chicago's West Side.

A group of Italian American businessmen and community leaders formed the White Hand Society in 1907 to fight Black Hand extortion.

Carl Laemmle, the founder of Hollywood's Universal Studios in 1906, received his inspiration while visiting Dan Ligarda's Nickelodeon movie theater on Halsted and Taylor Streets.

Two of Chicago's most respected "top cops” are Italian Americans: former Police Superintendent Joe DiLeonardi and Melrose Park Police Chief Bill Jaconetti.

The famous Pickwick movie theater in Park Ridge, used as the backdrop for Roger Ebert's "At the Movies," was designed by Alfonso Ianelli, a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The black boxes found on all commercial U.S. airplanes were manufactured at the DeMuro Brothers Electronics Factory in suburban Melrose Park.

Vito Bertoldi of downstate Illinois is one of 14 Medal of Honor winners from World War Two.

Amabile Piguri Santacaterina, one of Chicago’s s most popular Italian radio broadcasters in the 1940s, was recruited by the FBI to aid in the war effort.

Chicago clarinetist, Joe Marsala, had the first integrated band on 52nd St. in New York City in 1936. Marsala also brought the first integrated band into NYC's Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1937

Judge Nicholas Bua ruled against patronage in Chicago's City Hall in the 1970s.

Chicago-born operatic soprano Vivian Della Chiesa was so popular that she had her own national radio show during the 1930s.

Baker and businesswoman Serafina Ferrara, known as the "Angel of Taylor Street," organized thousands of weddings throughout her lifetime.

Certified Grocers is the largest grocery cooperative in the entire nation organized by Henry Vinci in the 1960s.

Every musician in the U.S. receives royalty payments on his of her recordings, a condition fought for, and achieved, back in the 1930s under James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians.

One of six members of the Italian Parliament representing Italians abroad, Senator Ron Turano’s territory extends from Alaska to Panama.

Actor Gary Sinise, Steppenwolf director Frank Galati, and Drury Lane producer Tony DeSantis are just a few of the artists of Italian descent who helped create Chicago’s vibrant theater scene.

Gerald Arpino relocated his renowned Joffrey Ballet to Chicago, joining already established dance troupes led by Lou Conte and Gus Giordano.

Oscar-nominated actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio is an Oak Park native.

Singer Carol Lawrence, née Laraia, grew up in Melrose Park and originated the role of Maria in the first Broadway production of West Side Story in 1959.

Educator and principal Claude Mazzocco, born on the city’s East Side, founded and served as first president of the Illinois Middle School Association.

Mario Nello Buoniconti turned an old movie theater on Chicago’s West Side into Ferrara Manor, one of Chicago’s largest banquet halls.

Raymond and Connie DeGrazia opened up a pizzeria in the early 1950s, “Connie’s Pizzas,” credited with popularizing the then-obscure food pie.

South Side singer Peter Cetera became the recognizable voice of the popular rock band Chicago.

The late Henry Palmisano,born in Bridgeport and chief accountant at the family-run Henry’s Sports & Bait/Henry’s Marine, became a well-known activist who campaigned against commercial netting of perch fish in Lake Michigan.

Emma Tranter moved from Detroit to Chicago, where she formed the environmental activist group “Friends of the Park.”

Born in the suburb of Batavia, Frank Perna worked in his family’s Batavia West Side Market , one of the earliest businesses in that suburb), became a successful shoe-store owner, later spending the rest of his career as a high-ranking military official at the Pentagon.

As chair of the Chicago Mailers Union from 1968-1978, Peter Giangrosso negotiated contracts for newspaper workers, shared drinks with columnist Mike Royko, and delighted his Bridgeport neighbors by playing Big Band tunes on a Wurlitzer organ in his window.

Sam Cascio served as the legendary doorman at Chicago’s Hilton Hotel for over 60 years, greeting everyone from ordinary citizens to presidents.

Pianist Lennie Tristano, drummer Louis Bellson and violinist Johnny Frigo all made unique contributions to jazz music.

Dominick DeMatteo’s popular grocery store of the same name made the transition from small local business to one of the first supermarket chains.

Attorney Lawrence Pusateri was the first Italian American president of the 32,000 member Illinois State Bar Association.

Dino D’Angelo was a lawyer and philanthropist who refurbished the Chicago Civic Opera House, now called the Lyric Opera building.

Lawrence Pucci and his sister, Caryl Pucci Rettaliata, run Pucci Inc., one of the oldest custom-clothing firms in the nation.

Jazz, blues and pop singer Frankie Laine was born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio to Sicilian parents on Chicago’s West Side.

Lee Artoe drop-kicked a field goal for 52 yards while playing tackle for the famous 1941 Chicago Bears National Football team, an historic record set in the days before placekickers relied on a holder.